THE MOVIE Action-flick screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh’s directorial debut of the 1970s Marvel Comics title The Punisher is actually two clichés stitched together. The first half-hour is the comic-book setup: Just when undercover G-man and ex-Special Forces agent Frank Castle (Tom Jane, looking like a seriously buff Christopher Lambert) gets out of the game, his last mission kills the youngest son of Tampa’s evil, rich white man Howard Saint (John Travolta), whose vengeful hot-tamale wife (Laura Harring) wants Castle to pay with his entire family in addition to his life. Unfortunately for him and everyone he’s related to, Castle has momentarily stopped by his parents’ remote Puerto Rican beach estate for a reunion, making them all easy targets for a bunch of thick-necked hired mercs led by Saint’s right-hand man, Quentin (Will Patton).
The last 90 minutes is the 1970s revenge flick born-again hard, where the presumed-dead Castle returns to pay back his grief—with interest—and fends off an inventive series of hired assassins (a guitar-toting gunslinger from Memphis, a Lou Ferrigno-large Russian) en route to making Saint feel his pain. The odd thing is that Hensleigh combines only the most grisly elements of comics and Death Wish. The action is steadily over the top, but the blades and bullets draw blood, injuries require attention and need time to heal, and nobody is superhuman; Castle is a streamlined killing machine because that’s what our government trained him to do.
What’s most creepy about The Punisher is that it’s the first revenge flick of the post-Sept. 11 era. Whereas the wide-screen revenge violence in Kill Bill is played for belletristic genre commentary, The Punisher comes not from Castle’s personal vendetta but a moral high ground that’s eerily Bush-state-of-the-union party line. Castle cleans up because he’s in the absolute right to contain the men who do evil. He’s out for justice, hard to kill, and above the law.
THE DISC The Punisher DVD arrives with so many extras you’d think people paid attention to it when it came out last April. Packed with the usual comic-book adaptation treats—the behind-the-scenes making-of doc, the origins of the comic, an interview with artists, a sneak peek at the video-game tie-in, a DVD-only minicomic—the lone captivating extra continues the adrenaline OD of the movie. The peek at the flick’s stunts is almost as fun as the on-screen killing itself, and while watching you get this subtle feeling that you’ve seen something like this—you know, here’s us covertly wiping out the baddies’ fortress and taking over, and here’s this step-by-step look at how we did it with these really neat newfangled toys—somewhere before.